Elk shoulder seasons among changes to 2016/17 hunting regs

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks representatives nearly outnumbered attendees at a public meeting to discuss 2016/17 hunting season regulations Jan. 7. 

A handful of local residents assembled in the Big Timber Carnegie Public Library basement as FWP Wildlife Biologist Justin Paugh outlined the prospective changes for hunting in Region 5, which includes Big Timber, along with modifications to state regulations. FWP establishes new hunting regulations every two years, which are based largely on the health and numbers of game populations. 

For the coming two years, the basic structure of big game hunting season will remain the same, with a five-week-long season and a Saturday opener. 

Statewide changes are minimal with notable adjustments to harvest reporting requirements.

The reporting and the inspection of mountain goats will no longer be required and the reporting period for black bears has been extended from five days to 10 to coincide with requirements for other species. 

Major regional changes were focused around one species: elk. 

The hotly debated shoulder seasons were included in the department’s proposed hunting season dates beginning at the earliest possible start date, Aug. 15, and concluding at the latest possible end date, Feb. 15.  

The seasons will be effective in all of Region 5, save for hunting district 500 and portions of select districts, where Paugh said elk numbers have not ballooned to levels observed in neighboring territories.   

Paugh said the shoulder season proposal for Region 5 is similar to other proposals found in 33 hunting districts throughout the state.  

“These shoulder seasons are being proposed in our districts that are at least 20 percent over population objective, and they’ve been that far over objective for at least four years,” Paugh said.

The shoulder seasons would end after four years, baring a renewal by the Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission. 

Under the proposal, the shoulder seasons would permit the hunting of antlerless elk with any weapon on private land only for periods before and after the general rifle season. The general season this year is slated to open Oct. 22 and sunset Nov. 27. Archery season would run as usual, from the first Saturday of September to the Sunday before general season; in this case Sept. 3 to Oct. 16.  

Paugh said FWP is proposing to add a limited number of B licenses which would be valid on public lands in the late shoulder season, archery season and general season to “keep the elk from piling up there.”

Paugh said in order to decrease the number of elk, which are estimated at roughly 4,000, the harvest must increase substantially in both general and shoulder seasons. 

“We need to be harvesting more elk than we are adding to the population through calf production each year,” Paugh said. “We can propose these seasons to continue as long as access to elk during the general season is not considered to be the main reason why we are not reaching our harvest objectives.” 

However, local resident Dave Groff pointed out that early shoulder season access in the Crazy Mountains would likely be difficult to obtain.

“In the Crazies that’s all locked up with private land and almost every one of those landowners up there without question are leased out to big time paying hunters for archery, so they’re not about to let somebody come in there with a modern gun and start shooting at elk prior to the archery season,” Groff said. “If you’re hunting modern gun prior to archery, you’re going to affect the rut and breeding habits of those elk … extending the season beyond the regular season for cows seems obviously the best way to take down some numbers, and I know there’d be landowners that would be willing to let people do that after the paying customers on those private places have come and paid to shoot bulls.”

To learn more about the changes as well as specific adjustments in Region 5, pick up the Jan. 14 edition of the Pioneer or subscribe to our e-edition. Current subscribers are provided complimentary access to the e-edition with registration.

Story and photo by Mackenzie Reiss / Pioneer Staff Writer

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Comments

What on Earth are you thinking to have an elk “shoulder season” in the 500 series units (and all other units for that matter) that starts on August 15th and overlaps the bowhunting season. This is the most asinine proposal I have ever seen!
Aside from the obvious safety concerns, it will absolutely ruin the bowhunting experience. This proposal is such a joke I can’t even believe you are seriously asking for comments on it! If you insist on this totally dysfunctional and chaotic “shoulder season” nonsense at least have it after the general season ends. This is truly an unbelievable proposal that is going to shock the entire bowhunting community, since most are not aware of this completely nonsensical proposal. What more can I possibly even say – I am in total shock that the MFWP is even seriously proposing this foolishness!
What are you thinking – the hunter should have a rifle in one hand and a bow in the other! Obviously, this opens up the possibility of shooting a bull with a rifle and tagging it with an archery tag!
Based on the following information, you have already proven you don’t have the resources and coordination to manage the pilot “shoulder season” program, so naturally you want to open it up to most all hunting districts beginning in August – truly unbelievable! Again, what more can I say about this insanity!
Questions?
Because of the popularity of the shoulder season FWP’s hunt coordinator in White Sulphur Springs averages 600 calls a day. On a good day he can respond to about 100 inquiries.
The best way for those interested in information in the shoulder seasons in hunting districts 446, 452 and 449 is to visit the U.S. Forest Service office in White Sulphur Springs at 204 Folsom St. FWP has personnel there to answer questions and help hunters 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., seven days a week.

Agreed. It's so true that modern gun hunting prior to archery season will scare the elks which makes bowhunting much more difficult than it already is. Extending the season longer will be a viable option to control the elk's population.

I live in a rural area where people find it necessary to keep rifles to stay safe from the attack of wild animals, so we are very careful about choosing the best rifle scope that helps shooting the target successfully.
Thanks!
George Ashley

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